Investing in US Real Estate

Cold winters have you wanting to head south? Some investors are downsizing here to take advantage of the US real estate meltdown in some hot locations.

David Russell lives in a spectacular Vancouver penthouse condo. It has a multi-million dollar view and a 1.8 million dollar price tag. So why is he selling?

I'm thinking of taking advantage of the price increases in Vancouver real estate and this property that I'm selling here and sort of splitting in two," David explains.

That means buying a smaller place here and using the extra cash to fulfill a life long

dream of owning a winter home in Palm Springs, California. His dream is closer to reality because of the US housing crisis. In the Palm Springs area, 6,000 homes are in foreclosure and properties aren't selling

"There's no energy. I hate to say it, but you can kind of feel the desperation," he confides.

And it's not just Palm Springs. Phoenix, Arizona has had a 900 percent increase in houses for sale and that's putting downward pressure on prices

For over a year, David has been book-marking properties for sale on the Internet and watching prices fall.

"There it had dropped about a third to 40 percent from its listing price," he notes.

Sounds good -but a word of caution:

"Let's not make a mistake that some of the Americans have done," warns Vancouver real estate agent Spice Lucks. She says the mistake is to borrow money against the equity in your main home to invest in a recreational market like Palm Springs. It can leave you in a position where you are overextended

"When you push yourself beyond perceivable limits the pendulum tends to swing back and hit you in the head," she warns.

David wants to see the market bottom before he jumps in

"There is nothing wrong with buying property on the way back up again . Cause at least you know you've hit the bottom," he says.

And when he's ready to buy, he has a plan

"The bottom line is a buyer comes to town and they have the money, they'll all be jumping for that buyer to see if they can sell their place, and they may be willing to take quite a discount from what they are asking at that time," he predicts.

Before buying down south, investigate tax implications such as capital gains when you sell it. And if you rent it out, you must file an American tax return every year even if you are declaring a rental loss.

WiFi Security

Thanks to WiFi a lot of us are surfing the Internet wirelessly. But with the convenience comes risk. Wireless Internet access, or WiFi - is found in many homes, coffee shops, and office buildings.

Most users are just glad to get their computers working with the wireless web, and forget about security. And that's a problem. Networking expert Joe Brenner demonstrated for CTV how easy it is to breach another account. He looks up the IP address the network has given his computer. And he uses that address to guess the addresses of other users on the wireless network.

"I put it into my standard dos connection, and it comes up as says there it is... it's coming up and saying connecting to 101," he shows our cameras.

"If it comes up it might ask for a password, but a lot of people don't bother having security if they're the only one using the laptop,"

He says thieves can learn enough to make you a victim of identity theft.

"They could look at your bank accounts, they could look at any of your health records, they can look at all of your information, whether it's private or not," he warns.

Brenner says in his experience, half of laptops are accessible.

To protect yourself: enable your computer's encryption software, which scrambles the data on your computer. Change your router's access name and password. Approve all wireless network users in advance: for example, everyone in your family who is going to use a computer. And periodically check router logs for rogue users. That way you'll know if you need to up your security measures.

You can find step-by-step how-to advice on how to implement these measures by typing WiFi Security on Google.

And to protect you if your laptop is stolen, Absolute Software in Vancouver has a product called Lojack, which has successfully tracked stolen laptops and reunited them with their owners. It's amazing technology. Right here at home.